Ahead of the presidential election, as Martin Kramer demonstrated here, how JTA reporter Ron Kampeas described inaccurately an ongoing debate — Rashid Khalidi's ties to the PLO — and, by doing so, subordinated good journalism to a political agenda.
Now, in a news analysis entitled, "On foreign policy, Obama and Bush sounding similar," Kampeas does it again in trying to criticize Dennis Ross as a Bush-type hardliner.
Of Senator Coats and Senator Robb's bipartisan commission report, "Meeting the Challenge," Kampeas writes, "It calls for stiffer sanctions, an end to uranium enrichment and outlines a military option that would have ‘more decisive results than the Iranian leadership realizes,' although such an option would be a last resort."
True, but perhaps Mr. Kampeas missed the primacy of diplomacy which the report highlighted on its first page, in detail in its Executive summary, and in chapters in the main body.
To back his claims — first voiced by Gary Sick, a former Carter-administration aide, Kampeas seeks to highlight the participation of Republicans (imagine, on a bipartisan commission!) while omitting the Democrats participating. This is dishonest, and intentionally so. Indeed, Kampeas' take-away seems to be that Republicans are contagious and that any Democrat should be condemned for sitting down with policymakers, economists, military practitioners, and area experts across the aisle and seeking to hash out areas of consensus versus areas of disagreement. Indeed, Mr. Kampeas should be embarrassed that he missed what even The New York Times did not when it labeled the report, "One of the most thorough discussions is in a report by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center. . . to devise policy solutions both parties might embrace."
There are many study group papers out, most recently one by Sick, Iran activist Trita Parsi, and University of Michigan academic Juan Cole which urge diplomacy. Good, but every study group urges diplomacy, and the more useful issue more than declarations. What makes the Coats-Robb report different is it seeks to address the question that separates substantive policy studies from statements of advocacy: What happens if the first course of action (diplomacy) does not work? And what happens if the second does not work, and so on down the line? This is not a roadmap for war; it is analysis.
Indeed, we can all agree with Ron Kampeas that it would be great if the only obstacle to a solution with Iran was a lack of diplomacy; i.e., the argument implying that Carter, Reagan, Bush the elder, Clinton, and Bush the junior simply didn't wish for diplomacy hard enough. But rather than misconstrue positions to create false dichotomies to fulfill straw man arguments, Kampeas might more productively ask every official advocating diplomacy:
(1) What happens if diplomacy does not work?
(2) If diplomacy does not work, is there any place for sanctions or other forms of coercion?
(3) Will removing military action (containment, deterrence, blockade, targeted strike) from the table as a last resort facilitate or undercut diplomacy?
(4) What is the cost to the international non-proliferation regime and regional stability of a nuclear Iran?
(5) What is the command-and-control of any nuclear program in the Islamic Republic?
Answering these questions, analysts will fall into two camps:
(1) Sick, Parsi, and Cole might give up if diplomacy does not work. They may believe that Tehran's motivations are pure and, if not, that we can live with a nuclear weapons capable Iran. Such assessment, if any Obama advisor concurred, would be newsworthy.
(2) Most Democrats and Republicans and, indeed, any of the hundreds of technocrats that work regularly on Iran and proliferation issues not only in the United States but also in Europe — would likely acknowledge that diplomacy and incentives alone may not be enough, and further steps might be necessary to (a) build multilateral coalitions and (b) augment leverage to raise the cost of the Iranian leadership's defiance of the international community on nuclear proliferation.